A new network uniting indigenous women organizations in East Africa is in the offing following a successful convening of representatives from these groups in October 2011 in Nairobi. This meeting, convened by the Friends of Lake Turkana (FoLT) and the United Nation Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) provided a unique forum for indigenous women to exchange ideas, experiences and strategies to address the problems that they commonly face and eventually create a network for indigenous women in East Africa.
Indigenous women in Africa have lived in marginalization and isolation all their life. Even as all indigenous groups face the same challenges, indigenous women have to face extra obstacles not only in the wider community, but also within their own marginalized communities – making them the marginalized of the marginalized. With this realization, this meeting sought to strengthen indigenous people’s cohesion and unity on issues of common interest with the end goal of ending marginalization and a focus on the special disadvantages that indigenous women and their organizations face.
Without unity of purpose, women issues are generally not taken seriously. The situation is worse for indigenous women. As a result of the absence of significant unity, indigenous women have found it hard to actively participate in important decision making in their communities and in larger forums. As a result, their issues have not been addressed when political decisions that affect their developmental and livelihood needs are made. With unity, indigenous women leaders will be able to bargain for their share of the decision making process and their voices will be heard in the highest tiers of community since their constituent authority and freedom will be recognized.
During the indigenous people’s convening, women and men shared their stories and perspectives on the validity of a unified forum bringing together the various indigenous peoples groups and building on the strength of women leadership. The meeting thus agreed that FoLT would facilitate the establishment of a strong network of indigenous women’s organizations in East Africa. FoLT founder and director Ms Ikal Angelei will chair the steering committee that will work out the modalities of the formation of this forum.
Further, once the indigenous women have formed a forum, they will seek linkages with the international forum of indigenous people as a way of sharing experiences and strategies as they quest for their hopes, concerns, self-determined development and livelihoods.